New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has recently attacked Israel’s government for its regional policy. His February 13th article, “Postcard from Cairo, Part 2,” claims that the Israeli government fails to acknowledge regional changes and prefers an autocratic dictator such as Mubarak rather than a democratic regime in Egypt.
According to Friedman’s simplistic analysis, the current Israeli cabinet is the most “out-of-touch, in-bred, unimaginative and cliché-driven” in the nation’s history. But in actuality, the Israeli public - which elects its government democratically - supports the government at higher approval rates than we’ve seen here in the past 20 years. Contrary to Friedman's view, the current cabinet is very much in tune with the real and legitimate concerns of the Israeli people.
Israel obviously does not oppose liberal democracy in Egypt. It does, however - and with good cause - oppose an Islamist or radically anti-Western regime in Egypt. Such regime would certainly fail to uphold “freedom, dignity and justice" when it comes to women, Christians and minority rights, concepts which have been championed by the protestors in Tahrir Square. Israel also opposes any regime - secular or religious - which would tear up the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, an agreement which has been the basis for Mideast stability for more than 30 years, as Freidman himself notes.
Apparently, Israeli citizens understand the inevitable conclusion that Friedman somehow fails to reach: A strong, democratically elected Israeli government that cares for the national interests of the State of Israel is actually a positive thing for both the State of Israel and its Western allies.
The Egyptian revolution indeed surprised the US government and Israel. Friedman himself asserts that Egypt has become unstable and unpredictable, with an unclear path towards democracy. What he neglects to consider or discuss are the very dangerous uncertainties produced by a politically unstable Arab state with a population of 80 million people on Israel’s southern border. Let us not forget that a majority of that population express deep enmity or even hatred for Israel, as well as long standing resentment and opposition to the treaty that has so far held the peace in the region.
We, the Jews of Israel living in the Middle East, who Friedman falsely paints as having sided with the Pharaoh unlike the Jews of Egypt who chose Liberalism, prefer stable regimes that are allied with the West. Of course we would also prefer that those regimes embrace liberal ideals, respect their own people and care for human rights. To claim otherwise denigrates the founding principles and ethos of the democratic Jewish state.
However, the current situation in Egypt is unstable and may create neither scenario. Rather, the political situation may very well lead to an extreme dictatorial regime that not only will embitter the Egyptian people’s lives, but also turn its back on the West. That's the outcome which our prime minister and cabinet fear, and justly so.
Let’s be clear and realistic about one thing: Many in Egypt oppose peace with Israel. A radical regime may emerge that will choose to act on that opposition. Likewise, even if democracy prevails, a majority of Egyptians may still favor the dissolution of the 1979 peace treaty and support launching hostilities or even outright war against Israel. How will the United States respond, when such course of action could quite literally leave the entire region in flames?
Friedman's attacks on the Israeli government do not serve Western interests, and they are not welcomed as reliable or relevant by Israeli citizens. Rather, Freidman’s commentary only serves to strengthen radical Islamic regimes in the Mideast who are opposed to Israel and the West.
The Hamas lesson
Here in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu's response to the Egyptian crisis has been to cautiously and pragmatically look after Israel’s vital interests. By no means is the Israeli government attempting to stifle the development of true democracy in the Arab world. However, it is unquestionably the duty and obligation of any government to consider the strategic implications of any international development.
Let's examine what happened when the Israeli government previously failed to consider its national interest and instead listened to the US president in an attempt to bring "democratic revolution in the region." Former US President George W. Bush forced then Israeli PM Ariel Sharon to allow Hamas to run in the 2006 Palestinian elections. Although the vote was democratic, what happened next was the antithesis of democratic rule. Hamas attacked Fatah, launched an armed coup in Gaza and forcibly eliminated its opposition. Today, Hamas exercises dictatorial and autocratic control in Gaza, and no one recalls the political process that brought it to power.
Every citizen who believes in liberal democracy was moved at the sight of the anti-authoritarian protests in Egypt, but we should not be confused. Through Mubarak's doing, Egypt today lacks organized and pluralistic civil society. Apart from the army, the only truly organized political opposition force in Egypt is the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt lacks a developed civil society or organized democratic opposition movements that can step in to take control of the country and lead it to democracy. Ignoring the Muslim Brotherhood or claiming that the demonstrations weren't organized by them is an abstraction of complex processes in Egypt, and is patronizing towards the citizens of Egypt, many of whom believe in Islamic revolution and rule.
If Friedman is willing to jeopardize the citizens of Israel through trial and error experimentation, then we say - no thanks! We do not wish to participate in your experiment. If you had promised us a democratic and liberal Egyptian society that supports human rights, every Israeli would support the current political upheavals in Cairo unquestioningly. But no one can guarantee that.
Friedman argues that Israel does not support a democratic revolution in Egypt. I would check democracy in my own home before I attack others. Despite their public support for the Egyptian protestors, the US continues to support a brutal, autocratic monarchy in Saudi Arabia that denies even the most basic civil rights to its citizens – this is hardly promoting democracy in the Middle East.
Cleary, the American hypocrisy on this point reflect that the US, like Israel and all other nations, must sometimes put its own strategic and national interests ahead of even the loftiest ideals. And when you live in a neighborhood like ours, you understand that.
When faced with complex situations like these, it’s far easier to be sitting in Washington at the head of a world power. But when you look at things from the perspective of a small country, the only democracy in the Middle East surrounded by Hamas, Hezbollah, Lebanon and Iranian-led Syria - supporting Egyptian instability and uncertainty prompts life-threatening dangers for Israel.
The writer is an advisor to a cabinet minister in the Israeli government and one of the leaders of the Young Likud
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